Friday, December 20, 2013

Back in the Lemmon Cays, San Blas Islands

20:30 14 Dec 2013, Still in Puerto Linton.
It is finally a calm night here in the anchorage. For the past week it has been blowing 10-12 kts here and a lot more off-shore.  All the weather predictors have been calling for light winds for the past few days but reality is quite different. We actually weighed anchor and left this morning only to be met with 8-12 ft seas and 17-20 kt headwinds as we reached open water. After realizing that we would arrive after dark it was an easy decision to return to the relative comfort of Puerto Linton. Scaring the poop out of Fran might also have had something to do with it. She is again convinced that we should go back to Mexico, now!
Sometime in the early afternoon a squall came through with a lot of rain and wind. It didn’t last long but it did bring that expected change in the weather. As I write this the wind is a light offshore breeze with thunder and lightning visible to the east, where we were headed…  We’ll try again tomorrow in the hope that the seas will have calmed overnight.
Waiting for the weather to change can be a boring process. For the last few days we have been looking for things to do and finding small projects or reading. Fran’s fascination with Candy Crush Saga (I-Phone, I-Pad App) is rubbing off on me but it is easily justified as mental exercise and God knows how much people of our age need some of that.  Fran now hates Candy Crush and Angry Birds!!!
Yesterday we went to Pizza night again and met several new people. After almost 2 weeks here we are starting to feel like locals. We also met a lovely lady who has a great house overlooking the bay. Her aquariums, hummingbird feeders and fountains are superb but her claim de fame is her pet 3-toed sloth. We both had a chance to hold this amazingly gentle creature. We also learned that it has a very strict diet of a certain type of leaf and drinks no water but takes in the moisture from the leaves and pees only about once a week; no I am still not making this up!!

Cute or what??

 Well, we have received confirmation from the broker in the UK, Kings  Easton, that Gosling is officially listed on 3 websites. If anyone is interested in all of the specifics you can find her on under the Manufacturer’s name and model: Nicholson 42. Picking a place where she can be viewed by potential customers was tricky but Rio Dulce, Guatemala was chosen because it is our destination for mid-March, and, we just got confirmation today that we are accepted at the Catamaran Marina for the layover season. Thanks, Barry (Passat II) for giving up his spot. Now I only have to convince Fran that this is a calm sea destination.
We got word, at last, from Chris Parker, the Caribbean weather guru, about our planned route this season. He agreed it was possible but the chances of getting a good weather window from Colombia are much more difficult than from the coast of Panama via Provedencia to the Caymans so it looks like the planned route will change drastically. Should the weather windows not cooperate we will most likely miss Cuba and make for Rio Dulce by a more direct route. That’s the cruising life in a nutshell. Had we started in the eastern Caribbean anything would be possible but going against the trade winds can be difficult, to say the least. Now Fran will get to cruise the Caribbean on a cruise Ship!!!

21:30 17 December 2013, East Lemmons, San Blas Islands
We have finally made it back to the San Blas Islands. As planned, we departed early the following morning and, although there were still sizable swells they were much more “cruiser friendly” this time. During the first few hours we skirted some dirty black clouds offshore. 

Big squall - missed us, just!
The radar showed that they were intense systems with lots of rain but, luckily, they remained about a mile to seaward of us. Later we had a favorable wind and got the sails up for a spell but by the time we arrived at the entrance to the San Blas Channel the wind had reverted to the 12-15 kts from the East making things quite lumpy.  By mid-afternoon we turned south into the channel and soon arrived at the West Lemmons. We had time for a dip in the 81F water before more big black clouds began to form. For the past two evenings we have had some spectacular thunderstorms over the shore but little affect , other than a few showers where we were.
Today we went by panga “taxi” to Porvenir to sign in to the San Blas Islands. It was a relatively painless process costing us $30 for a month cruising permit. The funds generated from these fees go to the Kuna natives. We have already had visits by the two main mola makers of the area. Both Lisa and Valencio remembered us and didn’t push too hard for us to buy their molas.

Once back on the boat we weighed anchor and motored over to the East Lemmons, our last stop last March before heading to Shelter Bay. Several of the boats we had met in Shelter Bay are here and we expect a few more will arrive for the Christmas Potluck event planned for Christmas Day. Aka, Three Sheets, El  Karma, Respite, Hippo Camp,  and Dream  Ketcher are here, among others . On our way we saw this small island inhabited by a Kuna family. The house is built of vertical bamboo poles with a thatched roof but they have solar power and a big red “ Claro” TV dish.

  Progress for these people?

21:30, 20 December 2013, East Lemmons anchorage
When will this damned wind ever abate?? It has been 3 days now since we moved from the West Lemmons to this, more populous anchorage and the wind is still hounding us as it did in Puerto Linton. If it wasn’t for the reefs between us and the open ocean this anchorage would not be tenable, but, then again, all of these low sandy islands would not be here either. There are a few kite surfers who are having a whale of a time. We have taken out our Christmas decorations but doubt if the tree will be set in these conditions. There is supposed to be a change by the weekend but we are not putting too much hope in those claims. Today was the first good sunny day and we were able to get some “free” battery charge from our solar array. So far, we have had to supplement with the Honda generator. We now see the value of a wind generator; in fact, we bought one today, and older Aerogen 6, from another cruiser. We are assured it runs well but until we reach civilization again and are able to get a mounting pole and some cabling it will have to wait in a storage spot under a bunk.
This will be the last entry before Christmas, so, to everyone reading this, a very merry Christmas to you and yours.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stop-over in Puerto Linton

22:00, Monday, December 02, 2013Puerto Linton, Panama
Yes, we finally made it out of Shelter Bay!! That magnetic attraction was broken Monday morning as we slipped the dock lines and motored out of the harbour in light winds and a , somewhat, calm sea. The weather overnight ad been dreadful with a strong squall about midnight but, by morning the wind had died and several boats headed out. With the light wind we were finally able to bend on our headsail and we headed out shortly thereafter.
It was a motorboat ride all the way to Puerto Linton, about 22 miles up the coast and just past Portobello. With no agenda for the next few weeks we decided to explore some of the cruising hot spots we missed last spring. Linton is a small bay but well frequented by cruisers, some having been here for years. Not sure why cause there are few services in the village but the road adjacent to the village leads directly to Colon and Panama City and for a few dollars you can bus it into either location with ease.
We still had a few items on our to-do list but after leaving a few more popped up. On departure we discovered that the inverter charger, that we thought had cured itself – hadn’t. Looks like either surgery or replacement; another unexpected expense….Today I finally got the gumption to climb the mast and fix the spinnaker halyard. Also had to repair a stuck winch, replace a valve in the dinghy and take apart and clean the carburetor on the big outboard. We also tried out the rain-water collection system that Fran had made last spring. With the addition of a few fittings and a filter we were able to top off the water tank during the squalls that persisted throughout the day.
But the rain didn’t stop us from taking a dinghy ride through the mangrove covered channel to Panamarina, a marina that has been carved out of the jungle and mangroves over the past few years. We had been told that they have an excellent little French restaurant there but when we arrived we discovered that it was a special day. After years of preparation they were hauling out their first boats, a small sloop and a catamaran.
The restaurant lived up to its reputation. Fran had a large plateful of mussels (moules) and I had their signature steak with pepper sauce. 4 stars!! And prices were extremely reasonable. The frites and chocolate mousse, transported us back to our visits to France many years ago!!
We’ll probably stay here for a few more days before moving on to the San Blas islands. Friday night is pizza night at a local hangout that bakes their pizzas in a home-made oven. It gets so hot that the pizzas are ready after only a 20-25 second exposure. In the meantime we hope for sun to energize our solar panels otherwise we will have to haul out the generator. Tomorrow I attack the inverter- charger. I can’t screw it up anymore than it is – can I??
09:00 Monday, December 09, 2013, Puerto Linton, Panama
It is a beautiful rainy morning. The wind has finally died and, according to the weather channels, will remain calm for the next week. Our rain-catcher is working overtime to refill our water tanks and we are nice and dry in our floating cottage. Life is good!!
Actually it has been a boring week waiting for the wind to let up. We’ve been doing lots of reading and Fran has been playing Jewel Crush on her I-phone. To say she is addicted is putting it mildly. Just finished reading Stephen Talty’s, Empire of Blue Water, the story of Henry Morgan and his career as a privateer in the very waters we are sailing. Many of the places mentioned in the book are very familiar to us. Portobello, one of his most famous conquests, is only a few miles away and the Spanish fort of San Lorenzo,  that he destroyed on his way to sack Panama City, is just down the coast from Shelter Bay. I now regret not having taken the time to hike the 7 miles to visit the site while we were closer.
My threats to repair of the inverter must have been heard. A last minute check before I attacked it with my tools proved it to be working. The clouds have persisted for most of the week so we have had to supplement the solar panel intake with the portable generator for a few hours every day. Our dilemma of wishing for sun for solar power and rain to refill the tanks is frustrating. Rain at night and sunny days would fit the bill but nature doesn’t necessarily respond to our needs.
21:30, 11 December 2013, Last night in Puerto Linton
We are leaving tomorrow morning for the San Blas Islands. The wind has abated and will remain relatively calm throughout the weekend. We did our last major shop today in Colon and we are ready.
Yesterday we celebrated Fran’s birthday at the same French restaurant that we went to last week; her reaction definitely merited a return engagement. 2 other couples were slated to go with us but it was only the men folk that were able to come. That was OK with Fran, being the gregarious lady that she is…. Actually the wives had a rare opportunity for a free ride to the big box stores in Panama, something that couldn’t be rescheduled. While there we were joined by a few more people who livened up the party.

Fran, lapping up the last of her favourite part of the meal- the chocolate mousse.

On our way through the mangrove channel we were treated with the rare sight of a 3-toed sloth and baby dipping her lower extremities in the water. It is very rare to see sloths in the water but, apparently, that is the way the poop so that predators can’t trace them through their droppings. No, I did not make that up!!

We were apprehensive of the shopping trip to Colon. The bus passes by the town at 07:30 and takes 2 hours to get to the city driving along the coast through twisty but well-maintained roads. These buses are the reject Bluebird busses from up north. Once they have served out their useful lifespan in the US they are shipped throughout Central America to become the common peoples’ method of conveyance, often called “chicken busses”. Well, there were no animals on ours but they were very typical of the style we have seen throughout these countries. Garishly painted, decorated with whatever was at hand at the time, outfitted with the loudest horns and stereo systems the owner/driver can find. Did I mention the little balls hanging from the mirrors and the network of lights for nighttime distinction? The condition of these vehicles is surprisingly good. Fran and I sat in the dreaded rear row and it didn’t hurt a bit but the speaker right above our head gave no mercy. Good thing I am hard of hearing….. The rear has a seat missing on one side and that is where the occupants stash their larger parcels. Our crap took a big chunk of that space. We got back by mid-afternoon, had a beer at the dinghy dock restaurant (another one run by a Dutchman) and motored back to the boat.

 Personalized Bluebirds!!

Gosling will be listed on the Yachtworld website in the next few days. You’ll be able to find her by entering the criteria: Sailing vessel, Manufacturer: Nicholson or Camper Nicholson, Length: 42 ft, Year: 1974. We have listed her with a British broker: Kings Easton in Buckler’s Hard, not far from where we lived from 1993-1996.
On to the San Blas and the best snorkeling area we have ever experienced. Maybe I will be able to break-in my new  Christmas present spear gun.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ready to go!!

22:00, 30 Nov 2013. Dock E-32 Shelter Bay Marina
This will be a relatively short post to bring us up-to-date. Posting from now on will be at the whim of the internet Gods.  Connection after this will be difficult as we will be in areas poorly serviced by the phone companies.

Day 3 afloat and almost ready to depart. It is a wonderful feeling to be back in the water and a welcome relief after a month on the hard. For the past few days it has been quite breezy here at the dock and much more comfortable on the boat. The weather has changed in the past week. The showers and thunderstorms that were so common a few weeks ago have become scarcer but the wind has increased. Besides a few more preparations we are waiting for a weather window to leave and the weather networks indicate Monday morning as a good time to head out of the protection of the breakwater.  During the past few days it has been blowing 20-25 kts with seas of 8-12 ft. We can see them breaking over the breakwater from here.

The big job of replacing the compression post went quite smoothly. Guido, a metal-worker from Linton, a village up the coast, completed the job last Monday. The photos show the setup we had with a jack and steel post to support the deck while we removed the old post.  The next shot is Guido with the finished product. The cardboard you see was the shielding we had to prevent damage from flying molten metal bits and to contain most of the metal dust from the cutting and grinding. At some point we will dress the post up with something or other. Macrame would be nice but we'll need lots of rope for that. Donations gratefully accepted.

 Jack in place with steel channel supporting the weight of the mast. The sleeve at the base of the old post are to keep it in place should the jack and supporting structure fail.

 Guido (welder) "testing" the new post in his "spark-proof" cardboard room.

The launching/splashing went off smoothly. The yard crew is very professional and has lots of experience launching or recovering 4-6 boats a day. The system used here is quite unique in that they move you to and from the yards by hydraulic trailer and then transfer the boat to a travel-lift for the final part of the operation. 

 Loaded on the hydraulic lift trailer.

Transferring to the travel-lift. Nerves of steel time!

Splash time!

Breathing easy time, except for Fran. She's driving to the dock.
The past few days have been a flurry of activity to get the final tasks done. The storage cover has been removed, washed and put away until we get to Rio Dulce in March, the new-to-us dinghy has been cleaned and rigged for hoisting onboard, fuel for the outboards and extra diesel has been loaded,, most of the loose stuff on deck has been stowed or rigged, such as the mainsail and sail covers, the VHF radio has finally been connected and all other devices have been checked and everything seems to be in order. We are almost ready to sail. The genoa sail has yet to be rigged on the furler and we will not be able to do that until the wind abates, hopefully tomorrow.  I still have to go up to the masthead to re-reeve the spinnaker halyard but that is not critical to our departure. It will be a while before we will use that sail.

We were hoping that Optical illusion would be ready to leave with us but after the engine was rebuilt and tested they discovered another problem that will set them back another few weeks. While waiting for the necessary parts they have decided to take their grand-kids to Peru for 2 weeks. Rio Nimpkish is almost ready to splash and we have heard from Warren Peace that they will be arriving about the 12th. Hopefully one or both will be in the San Blas area by Christmas. There are several other boats that we have befriended that will be leaving early next week so we will not be alone. 

 Shirley(Rio Nimpkish) wanted her pic taken to show she was actually working. Note the plastic bag covering the roller and the coffee pot in her other hand....